Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 3rd, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 11
Average Score: 3.67
Airships is a superb book. Okay, Airships is a superb book if you want make heavy use of magical, high fantasy airships in your campaign world. If you think there’s any chance, any chance at all, that airships will fit in your campaign then US $24.95 for the 96-paged colour book is well worth it. Airships isn’t an Oathbound book, not as such. It just so happens that Bastion Press’s capstone campaign setting, Oathbound, does make use of airships and it just so happens that Airships is extremely Oathbound friendly. One of the sample airships in the book is an Asherake vessel and there are notes to remind us that the anti-gav option is the one used by Oathbound ships.
The first chapter is all about construction. This is heavy with the numbers but it gives you plenty of options. There’s a wide choice of hull construction materials, type of engine and then all those airship enhancing extras that players are bound to want. It’s cheaper to build your airship out of bone than it is mithral but the latter material has some obvious benefits. It’s not just the matter of cost and toughness, manoeuvrability is also vital and some materials have other specific merits and flaws. The choice of engine also involves finding the right balance between cost, power, material and special abilities. You don’t want a necrotic engine that eats dead flesh to power the airship if you’re good aligned or have a sense of smell. Bottling a fire elemental or channelling magic directly from a mage are two other possible options from the long list. That’s just the basic; afterwards you might want to modify your hall (so it can land in water, for example) and add all sorts of extra components. You guessed it. There’s a long list of these too.
Then there’s the matter of crew. If you’re building a large airship then you need a large crew. Crews cost money and come with different amounts of airship experience. There are certain key positions within the crew that carry extra responsibility and deal with specific issues and this is something that the second chapter spends some time looking at. There’s a vast amount of money involved in building the airship. You could make a campaign out of the PCs’ money raising efforts alone. You could just ignore all the number crunching of the construction and just stick together bits and pieces that you like. This is good. I like having the option.
Once the airship is finally complete it’ll want to take off and fly around. Airships are funny that way. There’s a chapter that handles all of this and translates all the manoeuvrability and acceleration that the airship designers paid good money for into more meaningful numbers. There are rules for crashing in here but not for running into storms or other meteorological effects. Weather and navigation come in a chapter of their own after airship combat but I think they would have been better off bundled with this one.
Yeah, there’s a whole chapter for airship combat. It costs money to fix airships and it takes ages. In some ways having chunks blown out of your lovely airship is far more painful than having a sword through your arm. Any old cleric can heal the latter but the airship damage will be a bugger to fix. There’s lots going on in airship combat but this chapter makes a good job of explaining all your options clearly. Airships can ram one another; there’s a silhouette diagram showing the various angles a ramming airship can hit their target. The relationship between the airship’s speed and its armour class is explained, as are hull point damage and critical hits to the craft. Crews can try to board one another’s vessels and if the crew just happen to be flying creatures in their own right then this is extremely handy for them. Of particular interest to me is the effect made to involve characters and their actions into combat. It’s genuinely hard to keep the players the focus of attention when there are two or more crews battling it out with these fantastic airships. This section does a good job of keeping the actions of the PCs relevant without unrealistically skewing the mechanics in their favour.
When we return to more mundane business of flying the airship around we discover that it’s not so mundane after all. Airship crews would rather fly over a swamp than the ocean. Ocean landings are just that bad. With the weather effects a GM can surprise players with more subtle features than the stereotypical lightening storm. Geography lessons have never been so interesting as we read how currents of hot air, thermals, can help or hinder aircraft flight and how mountain ranges can direct these gusts of air. Similarly the subsequent chapters on aerial equipment and aerial trade aren’t boring, aren’t just another pair of typical chapters found in every other book. They’re both an enjoyable read – if only because magical fantasy airships are so refreshingly untouched.
There’s rarely a real reason to include yet more new skills, feats and prestige characters in supplements these days but once again Airships makes the most of its rarely explored territory. The book serves up a treat and produces original and crunchy goodies. An airship saboteur isn’t just a rogue, he’s an exclusive, highly skilled and rare professional – and that makes for a prestige class. The ship mage and ship theurge earn their place as prestige classes too. There are virtually no aerial feats in vanilla 3.0 and there virtually no navigational feats either; Airships’ half dozen feats cut to the quick and give you just what you need (Engine Savant, Aerial Tactics, Rigging Combat, etc) without resorting to scraping the barrel just to pad the book out a little more.
Even the penultimate chapter of the book, with its collection of new spells, manages to be worthwhile and different. For a start the chapter doesn’t just jot down a new host of spells, it takes the trouble of re-visiting the spells in the Player’s Handbook and examining how they might work when cast hundreds of feet above the ground. Then it jots down some new spells.
Even the example airships are worthwhile. No, wait, I take that back. The example airships are gorgeous. They enjoy quality illustrations, deck plans (which Airships stresses are vitally important) and customised airship character sheets. The book concludes with a blank copy of the airship character sheet for photocopying.
Airships is crunchy and I prefer flavour. It’s not a problem here though. The crunchy numbers don’t do my head in and the atmosphere that I look for in every RPG supplement comes together as you read through the different aspects of airship construction, combat and flying. The flavour builds from the game mechanic pieces in the same way the airships themselves come together from the hull choices and engine types. Sam Witt, who’s really making a name for himself, has done exceptionally well here. The book could so easily have been a “if you really need it” and is “buy it so you can play with airships” instead. Airships is a superb book if you want make heavy use of magical, high fantasy airships in your game. If you succumb to temptation and buy Airships (which is a serious risk if you even just flick through the book) then it seems most likely that you will want to use magical airships in your campaign.